The Pandemic Interrupted My Transition – This Is How It Affected Me

There isn't a corner of life that hasn't been affected by the pandemic. From work to wellbeing and everything in between – it's all been thrown into some form of disarray. And in a society where marginalised people were already bearing the brunt of difficult times, the tumult of the past few months has had a significant effect.
Before the pandemic there were already so many barriers for trans and non binary people to get the support they need – especially those going through the process of transitioning. Unless you can afford to go private, the long wait times even to have your first appointment at the gender clinic mean that without money, many are left waiting for months, even years, to begin treatment. For many, purchasing unregulated hormones from the internet and self-medicating is the only option left.
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The psychological impact of this suspended life is only compounded by the virulent transphobia that surfaces in mainstream news outlets, fills the feeds of prominent figures and piles up in the replies of trans people with an online following. This trauma is exacerbated if you aren't privileged in other ways: if you are poor, Black or disabled you can expect to face an even steeper uphill climb to secure the support, recognition and safety you deserve.
Recent months have only made things worse. The urgent need to funnel services into combating the pandemic was an understandable sacrifice made by many for the sake of others’ safety. But as lockdown eases and the UK begins to open up again, it’s important to acknowledge the effect it has had on people who were heavily reliant on an already strained health service.
There is no specific point at which you stop transitioning – once you begin there is a constant process of coming out, following hormone therapy, socially transitioning and, if you are pursuing it, various forms of gender confirmation surgery. No matter where they are in the process, the other barriers that stand in the way of trans and non binary people living their authentic lives have only been raised higher by COVID-19. Everything from delays and cancellations of appointments at the gender clinic to an inability to access hormones and the movement of mental health services online will have a knock-on effect.
To get a clearer picture of the impact this has had, we spoke to four trans and non binary people about how they have navigated the pandemic and the effect it has had on their lives.
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"Before transition I was five years on hormones. While I am out to my family and two or three of my friends who are LGBT, I am not out to my coworkers or a handful of other friends. Coming out is quite risky when you are stealth/passing as you don't know how someone may respond. I've been on HRT for five years and was discharged from the Gender Identity Clinic a couple of years ago.
"The pandemic meant an important review of my hormones had to be cancelled. Having to stay indoors so much has increased my social anxiety too – it can be scary to go outside as it is but now that there is a virus it is even harder to be myself outside. [But the positive is] that I've been able to wear what I want a lot more. I personally struggle wearing skirts or dresses outside but due to being inside so much I've been able to dress how I would like a lot more.

When times get tough it's not uncommon for leaders to paint a marginalised group as a common enemy – if the people are united against something other than the government, they get away with whatever they want to.

"I think that the ramping up of transphobia in the media is being used as a scapegoat by the media sphere in preparation for an oncoming economic crisis caused by COVID-19 and maybe Brexit. When times get tough it's not uncommon for leaders to paint a marginalised group as a common enemy – if the people are united against something other than the government, they get away with whatever they want to. This effect has caused untold harm to many people I know; people are more scared to go outside, people are finding it harder to be who they are and, worst of all, many people who are just starting out their transition are facing incredible backlash right when they need more support than ever.
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"[There needs to be] increased funding to transgender medical services. Nearly every gender clinic is now a three-year waiting list, six months between each appointment. For someone to realise they are trans at 15, by the time they would even be able to get any form of hormonal treatment they would be 18-19. By which point puberty may have caused further changes and puberty is a horrible experience when you are transgender as you slowly watch your body morph into something you hate, with your very essence, before your eyes.
"My one message to other trans and non binary people reading this would be to have hope. It is a difficult road and there are a lot of challenges ahead. You may lose friends or family but you need to do what is right for you regardless of anyone else. That first time you put on the clothes that speak of who you are, the first time someone genders you correctly or uses your real name – these moments are beautiful and will be the best feeling in the world for you. And every time it happens after then it feels just as good. So please, don't give up. Have hope. You are a beautiful soul and deserve to be free."
"I was a few weeks into my transition when the pandemic started – by this I mean that I was on self-prescribed hormones. I've been out to my family as trans since I was 15 and had only recently come out on social media to my friends on New Year's. I have previously received support from the Tavistock gender clinic for minors but was discharged shortly after my 18th birthday. I am now currently awaiting an invite to an appointment from the adult clinic.
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"The pandemic has made it harder for me to access resources and support, with my counselling sessions with my therapist switching to telephone appointments and not being as effective. It also meant I had to wait for the lockdown restrictions to ease before I could apply for a provisional licence under my preferred name and gender, as well as finding someone who met the requirements that could sign my deed poll. There was also one point where I had to ration my hormone tablets: the place where I got backstreet hormones was shut and I couldn't order any from any online pharmacies because they would take months on end to arrive.
Zoey
"The only plus side has been not being as self-conscious about people noticing the physical changes from hormones when I left the house in 'boy mode', as there are less people on the street and me not being out as often.

I honestly want [young trans people] to have hope for the future and see life as endless possibilities. Being trans should not limit those possibilities in any way.

"I think there's been an increase in transphobia because of the increase of trans representation in film and TV, as well as activists like Munroe Bergdorf, who is leading the conversation on Black trans rights in the UK. The transphobia [is an attempt to] counter her activism. Also, with people being stuck inside, they're exposed to less diversity in their day-to-day lives.
"I honestly want [young trans people] to have hope for the future and see life as endless possibilities. Being trans should not limit those possibilities in any way."
"I started coming out as non binary to close friends and family members last November. By the beginning of lockdown, I was out at work and to most people in my life but not everyone, including my dad and my nan (who’s my very important matriarch because my mum died when I was 18). I also hadn’t yet sought support from a gender clinic or any external help with transitioning. 
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"In some ways it’s sped things up a bit. I’m an introvert so the socially distanced barrier that lockdown gave me made it somewhat easier to speak about my identity. For example, social media posts on TDoV [Trans Day of Visibility] and about my recent name change felt easier than they perhaps would have felt otherwise. The slowing down that my life has done during lockdown has allowed me additional mental space to process my trans-ness and feel more confident about being publicly trans, which is nice. 
"A less positive impact of the pandemic has been losing access to my support network of trans friends. I live in London normally but spent much of lockdown (by choice) living with my partner's family in the Midlands. I found being far away from my trans and non binary friends quite isolating. Particularly those friends who had been quite present in my transition up until lockdown. 

The slowing down that my life has done during lockdown has allowed me additional mental space to process my trans-ness and feel more confident about being publicly trans.

"[One positive has been] the chance to slow down, reflect and try things out in private safe spaces. During lockdown I got my first buzz cut, cut my own hair with clippers for the first time, wore my first binder, tried out my name ahead of publicly changing it and applied for gender identity counselling. I was transitioning before lockdown but still, it’s been a very (I think) beautiful transitional period (in a trans personal journey way). 
"I also came out to my nan, who is like my rock, over lockdown. That was a big moment in my transition for me and it luckily went really well because she’s the best woman alive. 
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"Sadly, I think during any time of unrest or discomfort in the UK, divisive and hate-fuelled behaviour seems to increase. There have been increases in hate crimes against LGBT+ and GNC [gender nonconforming] people year on year since Brexit, for example. I think it’s almost like a defence mechanism. When certain people feel threatened, they wield their power and privilege to threaten others – like some kind of fear response from a wounded animal. It’s sad and tiring to have to accept again and again. 
Noa
"Important to note though that the 70% approval rating for GRA [Gender Recognition Act] reform [from the] public consultation shows us, I hope, that the media is not representative of the people.   
"To me, there are two vital changes trans people need. Firstly, we need the right to self-identification, where we can determine our own gender identity without the approval of other (cis) people that don’t know us. Secondly, we need fast and efficient access to healthcare: counselling, hormones, surgeries and any other support we need. The road to transition has too many hurdles in it, and the government does have the power to make it easier for us. 
"Your gender is valid regardless of what time you come to it in life, how long it takes people around you to understand or whether your government recognises you or not. 
"There is a whole community of beautiful, self-determined and soulful humans just like you who can help you learn to love and respect yourself in a truly uninhibited way. Learn about the history of trans and GNC people. We have been here for centuries and I find strength in that. Also, spend time around the trans and queer community as much as you can. Solidarity is important and queer love is so powerful. It can lift you up and make you feel less alone."
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"My first appointment was due more or less now, after a three-year wait. I don't know when to expect it now. Knowing things are indefinitely on hold can't help but change your relationship to transition (it's already weird enough to have your relationship to your self determined, in part, by an external process).
"Transition is both a doing and a being; during lockdown, I've been aware of 'not trying' anymore and that I should be 'trying harder' to 'do some transgendering' but I have no idea what that would mean or look like. I've been unable to bind for several years since an injury, so even this definitional 'I am doing a transition' gesture isn't available.

My first appointment was due more or less now, after a three-year wait. I don't know when to expect it now.

"Man is something I am but because I am trans it is also something I have to consciously do; what does that mean, if I can't bind and there's no meaning to how I dress? It really brings your focus to those parts of the trans experience which are outside of your control to impact. Cis people often frame transition as a kind of dressing up by people who would rather have the social experience of the other gender. But I've never found much solace in 'dressing like a man' because I look abysmal; I don't even look like a cool dyke who is owning her look with power and pride, because I can't see past my shame and the incongruity of how these clothes didn't make me feel the way I thought they would. But there really isn't anything you can do to DIY your physical dysphoria, and techniques to relieve social dysphoria do not make any impact on those at all. So you make a cup of tea and try not to think about it.
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"I'm spending a lot of time looking at detransition resources, in part because they tend to have some good techniques for reframing/dealing with dysphoria in alternative ways. I've slipped into low-key identifying as non binary instead, because that's my social reality – not really in a proud way, more in a sense-of-failure way, 'this is what I can actually accomplish'. Being unable to access your gender for years does change the way you relate to it, you can't help it. I've definitely slipped from a very medicalist ('I have a problem that can be fixed through science'), stealth-oriented ('One day I will be a man and then vanish into the crowd') stance to a far more 'I am a transsexual and this is my transsexual body' one. Cis people don't like it when they encounter concepts like 'this is my female penis' but that's sort of where you end up; you have to find a way to understand yourself, regardless of what might happen in the future. You can't live for that. I've been 'transitioning' for five years, with no appointment in sight, and I can't bind. You have to find a way to deal with your chest the way it is, not just ignoring it or hating it but continuing with a 'transition of the mind' where you sink back into your body from wherever you were floating outside of it, and then get punk about asserting that this body is already a male one.
"Lockdown also means losing the opportunity to stay brave. The real problem with long waiting times is a lot of time to reflect on 'what if everyone hates me and I get disowned, and beaten in the street' – fears which, I imagine, diminish once you're overcoming them in practice day by day and learning you can survive. I had been working on doing my best to live as male in everyday interactions and losing that means there's nothing to alleviate the ruminating. Long waiting times also mean living with unresolved question marks; I'd like to know sooner rather than later if hormone therapy is not the solution I was looking for, or if my sexuality is going to change in unexpected ways. Again, without this certainty or any real way to check, nothing stops the ruminating.
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"Despite the difficulty for me, I don't want lockdown to end. I am worried for the safety of people who are high risk for COVID but cannot refuse to work, and worried the government will not require or enforce effective measures to keep them safe. I'm okay to accept a significant level of restrictions, for as long as it takes. Life comes first. And even after that, I do not expect that transgender healthcare will be high on the list to prioritise (nor, I guess, should it be, if there are people waiting for cancer treatment or who are in pain or going blind). You've got to get mellow about a thing like this; I'm imagining my future and it's me as I am now, sat on my windowsill watching the birds and pottering around the house. It's bittersweet but okay."
Interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity
The Beaumont Society is a national self-help body run by and for the transgender community. If you need some advice – or just a friendly ear – contact their information line on 01582 412220.
If you are a young person and you don’t identify with the gender you were given at birth, Mermaids can help. Give them a call on 0808 801 0400.

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